Wednesday, March 24, the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, is a day that sadly hits close to home. The protection and guarantee of human rights have not been respected, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Affordable healthcare, for example, is a fundamental human right, but not everyone has access to it. Racialized and Indigenous people of Ontario don’t always have adequate health insurance or can’t afford take time off work to get a COVID test or vaccine.
“People in low-income households sometimes risk going to work sick because they don’t have paid sick leave or lack adequate access to health care,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President (Warren) Smokey Thomas. “They must choose between getting paid and getting tested, which contributes to outbreaks in congregate settings and prolongs the pandemic. Access to PPE, paid sick leave and vaccines continue to expose the systemic inequalities that exist in Ontario and around the world.”
Although lockdowns have limited the spread of COVID, they’ve also contributed to an increased risk of suicide. They have exposed the lack of essential mental health supports that many people rely on to survive.
Human rights violations must be addressed on a global scale, especially in countries that cannot obtain COVID-19 vaccines. Richer countries are stockpiling vaccines and prioritizing their own populations, despite a surge in cases and new variants affecting the world.
“Every country needs a vaccination strategy, but not all have the resources or willpower to implement one. No one should be blocked from getting a life-saving vaccine because of the country they live in or the amount of money in their pocket,” said Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer. “This must change or else millions of innocent people around the world won’t receive a safe vaccine for years to come.”
Governments across the world have an obligation to address the systemic inequalities that have surfaced during the pandemic and to create tangible changes before another COVID wave of infections hits the most vulnerable populations.
OPSEU/SEFPO stands with human rights groups and people who have spoken up and who continue to protect our rights throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, we must not forget ongoing gross human rights violations which have remained unresolved and completely unaddressed, like murdered and missing Indigenous women and children. These issues are dire and deserve our immediate and undivided attention.